Happy Birthday, Sigmund

Okay, today was not Freud’s 150th birthday, this past Saturday was. (Meghan Daum writes a rather awkward birthday greeting for him here.) In any case, the "Freud on Fifth" exhibit at the Academy is now in full swing and open to the public (Alan Alda stopped by to see the collection for a half hour or so yesterday.) If you’re in the neighborhood and have the time, this is definitely worth checking out.

‘Freud on Fifth’ Exhibit to Display Freud’s Scientific Drawings at The New York Academy of Medicine
Exhibit
to open May 11 in conjunction with the 150th Anniversary of Sigmund
Freud’s birth; drawings and writings highlight Freud’s early career as
a neuroscientist


NEW YORK CITY, April
25— We all know Sigmund Freud as the father of psychoanalysis, but
there is another side of Freud that remains unfamiliar to many: the
neuroscientist. Before identifying the id and the Oedipus complex,
before laying the groundwork for millions of patients to take to the
couch, Freud spent years investigating nerve transmission in fish,
brainstem function in humans, and other hard-core neurological
pursuits. Much of the time, Freud recorded his observations by drawing
pictures of what he saw through a microscope – and those drawings will
soon be on display for the first time in the United States at The New
York Academy of Medicine.

Freud’s stockpile of must-see
scientific drawings and diagrams from throughout his nearly 60-year
career has been largely absent from public view, but not any longer. In
celebration of the 150th anniversary of Freud’s birth on May 6, 1856,
the Academy is hosting a fascinating exhibit of 30 drawings and
diagrams that Freud created between 1876, as a 20-year-old student,
through 1933, four years before his death. The three-month exhibit
opens May 11 and will trace the intriguing evolution of Freud’s career
from neurology to psychoanalysis by showcasing his late19th century
drawings of nerve tissue and cells, alongside his early-20th-century
diagrams of the working human mind.

Called “Sigmund Freud’s
Drawings and Diagrams of the Mind: From Neurology to Psychoanalysis,”
the exhibit will open to the public on May 11 in the Library of the
Academy, located at 1216 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street) and will
continue through Aug. 26. Hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and
Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Admission is free. This celebration of Freud’s early contributions is
presented in cooperation with the American Psychoanalytic Association
and the Arnold Pfeffer Center for Neuro-Psychoanalysis at the New York
Psychoanalytic Institute.

“This is the Freud you don’t know,”
said Miriam Mandelbaum, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the
Academy. “This is Freud as he has not really been presented in popular
literature. His scientific training is overlooked.”

The
drawings have never before been displayed together in an exhibit. Some
have been published in rare books and periodicals, while others are
facsimiles of original drawings on display at the Freud Museum in
London. The exhibit will also include images in about twenty books and
journal articles that Freud wrote between 1876 and 1933, many drawn
from the Academy’s extensive collection and others from private
collectors.

“This complete collection of Freud’s diagrams
includes some famous icons of psychoanalysis and other relatively
unknown, rarely-seen images,” said Lynn Gamwell, curator of the exhibit
and Director of the Art Museum at the State University of New York at
Binghamton, which organized the project.

Nineteenth-century
scientists used drawing as a tool to record observations that they made
looking through a microscope, and Freud was no exception. His early
drawings were simple diagrams of cells and nerve tissue of the eel,
lamprey fish, and crayfish. As a young medical student at the
University of Vienna, Freud also spent a substantial amount of time
unsuccessfully searching for the testicles of the eel, and thus he was
unable to define the fish’s mating habits. His sketches from this
research will be displayed in the exhibit.

“Is it not
remarkable that the future discoverer of the castration complex began
his scientific career by searching, without success, for the missing
testicles of the eel?” Mark Solms, director of the International
Neuro-Psychoanalysis Centre, writes in the exhibit catalog.

The
next phase of Freud’s research focused on anatomical studies of the
human brainstem. He learned his way around this complex adult organ by
first studying undeveloped fetal brains. An intriguing set of drawings
in the Academy exhibit illustrate this work as well as Freud’s theories
regarding the function of different parts of the brain. As Freud’s
interest turned to the study of language, one of the human brain’s most
complex functions, he continued to produce compelling drawings. But
because “function” cannot be seen under a microscope, drawings became
increasingly rare—though not absent—in Freud’s writings as he
transitioned to psychoanalysis. He grew more concerned with abstract
processes of the human mind that could only be observed in his new
laboratory—the consulting room with the couch—and were more difficult
to illustrate.

By the time that Freud was wholly concerned
with psychoanalysis, he no longer focused on a presumed anatomical
basis for the driving forces behind complex brain processes. This is
reflected in the fact that he created far fewer diagrams in his late
career.. Among Freud’s theoretical drawings included in the exhibit is
a depiction of his theory of the relationship between sexuality and
various mood states, and a famous drawing from “The Interpretation of
Dreams” (1900) that was Freud’s first diagrammatic representation of
the mind as a purely psychological entity.

Freud was well
aware that he would never be certain that his conclusions regarding
abstract mental processes were correct, Solms writes. But it is fitting
to celebrate the life of a scientist who was willing to admit that
“reality in itself will always remain unknowable.”

“Many
things in nature exist that cannot be seen,” Solms writes in the
exhibit catalog. “It is the fundamental task of science to discover
such things, which bring order to the observable world; for they
explain it. All of Freud’s work was an attempt to do this with respect
to the human brain, or nervous system. This is clearly reflected in his
drawings.”

For a listing of worldwide events celebrating the anniversary of Freud’s birth, visit http://www.sigmund-freud.co.uk/authors/8/American-Psychoanalytic-Association.
An exhibit directly across from the Academy, at the Museum of the City
of New York (1220 Fifth Ave.), will showcase some 75 cartoons relating
to “the shrink and the shrunk” that have been published in The New
Yorker in the past 80 years. Visit http://www.mcny.org/exhibitions/future/366.html for details.

For
information about the purchase of the catalog for the exhibit, please
call the American Psychoanalytic Association at 212-752-0450, ext. 29
or send an email query to info@apsa.org.

Founded in 1847, The
New York Academy of Medicine is an independent, non-partisan,
non-profit institution whose mission is to enhance the health of the
public. The Academy is a leading center for urban health policy and
action working to enhance the health of people living in cities
worldwide through research, education, advocacy, and prevention.

About Jon Frater

A gaming industry stalwart dating back to the 1980s, Jonathan Frater is the co-author of roleplaying game books Robotech: Return of the Masters, and Robotech Adventures: Lancer's Rockers, both for Palladium Books. Jonathan also wrote a column on writing and game design called The Tome in Gateways magazine. He's currently a librarian at Metropolitan College of New York. Article 9, the first in his ambitious Blockade Trilogy, is Jonathan's first full-length novel.

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